As someone who hasn’t been a gamer in somewhere over a decade, I joined the next generation console community with two prime directives. First, I wanted to be able to come home and take out aggression, raining some long dormant vengeance down upon some sort of computer generated bad guys. Why? Because I work a job where I talk to people all day and, as a young, foul-mouthed Black man in America, I can’t run the risk of ever truly keeping it 100% with the unwashed public. The other reason is because I want to play games with other people (because the majority of my friends aren’t nerdy enough to want to play my nerdy ass card games), but I don’t actually want to have fellowship outside of the game because I’m a career introvert.
So I bought a PS4 and, with it, Bungie’s massive multi-player online first-person shooter (MMOFPS), Destiny. Obviously, with the expansions, upgrades, and October’s “The Taken King” content, it’s a vastly different experience than what they started with, which is probably why fans cut the developers some slack on their lack of communication and why, allegedly, Bungie has no idea where to go next.
However, it seems Ubisoft has been paying close attention to Bungie’s sins and implementing their own solutions; it was only a week or so ago that they decided to reveal more of the ace up their sleeve, Tom Clancy’s The Division via playable beta. The online shooter takes place in a post-pandemic New York City, ravaged by a Black Friday virus, and you are an agent of the Strategic Homeland Division (hence the nickname “The Division”), deployed to restore order.
In keeping with the popular trend of open world sandbox games such as the Batman: Arkham series, Division allows you to explore the streets of the Big Apple (armed to the teeth, I should mention), lending aid to civilians and dispensing justice. Sometimes, you do this by handing out whatever med supplies you have available your backpack, but most of the time you’ll be mowing down rioters and “street cleaners” with automatic rifles that look like they came right off Iron Man’s forearm.
Story-wise, the game seems to waste very little time laying out the story for you. For the most part, you’re flown in via helicopter to get a look at some of the recurring faces you’ll see from time to time and sent on your way to catch bodies and save people. First off, the developers, while keeping it challenging, want to make sure you get the overall feeling of having this kind of power on the streets. Seriously, for you to be starting out at Level 1, you’re immediately issued enough firepower to occupy a small country or a half-empty government building in Oregon (if you’re feeling American and privileged). The Beta gives you a couple of missions to offer up an example of what the tone of game is like. And it’s dark, y’all. I mean, on a scale of 1 to “Dark As Fuck,” this story is about an 8 on the darkness scale which is darker than Man of Steel but not as dark as Season 2 of Luther. Shit in NYC looks so bad you’ll wonder why these people didn’t move to Gotham. I’m assuming the developers used an actual scientific prediction of the country under Donald Trump’s administration.
Your first big mission sends you to rescue a doctor from some armed combatants holed up in Madison Square Garden which has been fashioned into a hospital (they might as well… the Knicks haven’t used it to win a basketball game since the first Frank Ocean album). The cover-based combat is moderately tough and does its job in giving you the appropriate “holy shit” feeling of being thrown right into the heat of battle. The need for strategy and patience is paramount. The longer you’re out in the open in the middle of a firefight, the more likely you are to get riddled with holes. The time and detail Ubisoft Massive has put into recreating the city is utterly staggering to such a degree, I found myself pointing out a corner I remembered from my own annual visits.
The game’s overall theme seems to be the possibility of what society can become when true turmoil threatens it. It’s not some alien force that unites mankind to repel it, or some terrorist aggression from some “evil” country we’re told to hate — The Division implies the real threat is ourselves and what we’re capable of when we think nobody’s looking.
You ever play Grand Theft Auto and decide to start aimless mayhem just to see how long you can last fleeing from police cars and S.W.A.T. choppers? Well, this game is the next logical step from that. Once you become a rogue, you are officially one of the DZ’s hottest commodities. All the other agents are most likely going to be coming for your neck since there’s a bounty on your head in the form of hefty XP bonuses as well as all the gear they’ve stolen from dead agents.
Now, once you’ve got your cool stuff, the trick is getting it out. Since you can’t just walk out with your contaminated look, you have to have it air lifted at an extraction point. It doesn’t seem like a long time at first, but in the Dark Zone, 90 seconds turns into a lifetime. Once you pop the signal flare, every agent is informed that the chopper is en route to your location. This means you have any number of loot-thirsty players coming for you. It’s not until you’re steps away from hooking your goodies to the tow cable and you get shot in the back and robbed on site that you realize life comes at you fast.
And therein lies the allure of the Dark Zone and, ultimately, the big sell of the game as a whole. You can hang out on a rooftop with your sniper rifle as a Charles Bronson-esque death dealer good-guy type or you can surrender to the dark side and just cause pure anarchy, stealing everyone’s shit. In fact, you have a separate level system in the DZ than you do outside of it, furthering the implication that who you are there isn’t who you are outside of it (or maybe it is). In Destiny, you can have it out in the Crucible deathmatches, but as the announcer reminds you, the idea is that you’re sharpening your skills to take on the darkness about to overtake humanity. At the end of the day, it’s social gaming where you’re all on the same side. In The Division, you can team up to complete a mission that helps rebuild New York one minute, head into the DZ and double tap that same partner the very next second. It’s PvP gaming at its most hedonistic, appealing to the average gamer’s “id.”
Will Division live up to the hype built around this Beta? Who knows. However, it’s safe to say that this game is where mainstream next-gen gaming is truly headed. I can’t wait to see what the gaming world looks like when we finally arrive.